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Maria Sharapova accepts suspicion will remain when she returns from doping ban

Maria Sharapova accepts suspicion will remain when she returns from doping ban
By PA Sport

18/03/2017 at 02:48

Maria Sharapova accepts she will have a cloud of suspicion hanging over her when she returns to tennis next month.

The five-time grand slam champion is serving a 15-month doping ban after testing positive for the cardiac drug meldonium at the Australian Open in 2016.

Sharapova's suspension runs out on April 26, and she will play her first match the same day having been given a wild card into the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.

The Russian's impending return is the hottest topic in tennis, with the reaction from her fellow players largely lukewarm.

Maria Sharapova arrives at the World TeamTennis Smash Hits charity tennis event benefiting the Elton John AIDS Foundation at Caesars Palace on October 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada

Maria Sharapova arrives at the World TeamTennis Smash Hits charity tennis event benefiting the Elton John AIDS Foundation at Caesars Palace on October 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, NevadaAFP

The awarding of a wild card for a tournament that begins while she is still banned has been particularly controversial, with Caroline Wozniacki branding it "disrespectful".

The French Open and Wimbledon, meanwhile, are under pressure over whether to award entry to their former champion.

Sharapova admitted taking meldonium at an extraordinary press conference last March, insisting her only mistake was not realising the drug had been added to the banned list at the start of 2016.

An initial two-year ban was reduced to 15 months on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which concluded she had not intended to cheat.

But, asked if she expected the suspicion to linger for the rest of her career, Sharapova told Vogue: "I think if I was trying to hide something, I don't think I would come out to the world and say I was taking a drug for 10 years.

Tennis player Maria Sharapova addresses the media regarding a failed drug test at The LA Hotel Downtown on March 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California

Tennis player Maria Sharapova addresses the media regarding a failed drug test at The LA Hotel Downtown on March 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, CaliforniaAFP

"If I was really trying to take the easy way out, that's not a very smart thing to do. But the answer to your question is, absolutely."

Sharapova is more confident of the reception she will receive from the public.

The 29-year-old, one of tennis' biggest stars and the world's highest-earning female athlete, got a taste of life after the ban at exhibition matches in Las Vegas and Puerto Rico late last year.

She said: "I received really nice receptions when I walked out to play my exhibition matches.

"Ever since all this happened, I've had so many strangers actually come up to me. Like chefs coming out of the kitchen, or pilots come out of the cockpit to say something. It is so heartening.

"I've had tunnel vision about my career, and I don't think I ever realised the effect I've had on people. That has blown my mind."

As well as Stuttgart, Sharapova has also been given wild cards into Madrid and Rome, the two biggest warm-up events for the French Open.

There will be no easing herself back in, therefore, and Sharapova appears determined to hit the ground running.

The former world number one, who is now unranked, said: "I have expectations of myself because I know what I'm capable of. Will I have those standards? Of course. Will I have to be patient? It's not my greatest strength."

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